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The poem “The Awakening” is written by James Weldon Johnson. The poem talks about a flower waiting for a bee to drink its nectar. While waiting for the bee, the flower questions its purpose. The poet compares himself to the rose flower, in full-blossom, waiting for a bee to taste his nectar. The bee is a metaphor for love, either spiritual or romantic. The poem is a metaphor for the love of the divine. It talks about a plethora of concepts like spiritual love, devotion and purpose.
About the poet
James Weldon Johnson was born in 1871 in Florida, USA. He was an author, poet and civil rights activist. He was a leader of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People in 1917. He was a prominent voice in the Harlem Renaissance. He wrote “Lift Every Voice and Sing”, also known as the Negro National Anthem.
The poem is written in the form of a lyric. The poem is written in 2 stanzas. Each stanza consists of 10 lines. Each stanza contains 2 quatrains and a couplet.
I dreamed that I was a rose That grew beside a lonely way, Close by a path none ever chose, And there I lingered day by day. Beneath the sunshine and the show’r I grew and waited there apart, Gathering perfume hour by hour, And storing it within my heart, Yet, never knew, Just why I waited there and grew.
The speaker says that he saw a dream in which he was a rose flower. As the rose, he grew in a bush but alongside a way that no one ever walked on. He stayed there day by day under the sun and the rain and waited. He gathered the perfume for his petals and stored it but he could not find the reason for growing and waiting for something to happen. The speaker feels a sense of purposelessness. He waits for something that he isn’t even sure will happen. And while waiting he questions his existence and future.
The poet begins the poem by comparing himself to a rose. He extends this metaphor throughout the poem. He sees himself as a rose in a dream. The rose bloomed alongside a path where no one visited. This allowed the rose to never be seen or appreciated by anyone. The rose grew on a lonely path waiting for something to happen. It stayed alone through the sun and the rain, gathering nectar and perfume in its heart. But in the last line, one can see that the poet feels confused because he does not know what he is waiting for. This situation is a symbol for the lonely way to reach the divine and receive spiritual love. The poet gathers devotion in his heart the same way the rose gathers perfume but they do not know when or if they will be rewarded.
I dreamed that you were a bee That one day gaily flew along, You came across the hedge to me, And sang a soft, love-burdened song. You brushed my petals with a kiss, I woke to gladness with a start, And yielded up to you in bliss The treasured fragrance of my heart; And then I knew That I had waited there for you.
The speaker then addresses someone as a bee that flew up to the rose. He says that the bee came across the hedge and buzzed its love song near the rose. It kissed the petals and woke up the rose. The speaker says that once the bee kissed the petals, the rose yielded all its nectar and fragrance up easily. And then he realized what he had been waiting for. The speaker is able to find all the answers to his questions. Earlier the rose had felt a sense of purposelessness, but after the bee comes and takes the rose bud’s nectar, all the doubts are cleared. In the same sense, the speaker finds the answer to his question when he finds his love.
The poet addresses someone in this stanza. In the line “I dreamed that you were a bee”, “you” can be a reference to a divine entity or his beloved. He says that the bee came near the rose across the hedge and kissed the petals. This symbolizes the spiritual or romantic love God or the beloved brought to the poet. Just like the rose, once the poet received “a kiss” from the bee, he opened up and yielded his devotion and love like a treasure. Once he did that, he found the reason why he had been waiting. He found his purpose and realized that all this time he had been waiting for love.